We've dived into the digital world of zoom meetings to catch up with Chris Brunt as we enjoy one of the many special anniversaries of his Albion career.
We took Brunty back 12 years to that memorable day, April 28th 2008 and the night Albion effectively secured promotion back to the Premier League. A dramatic draw against Southampton at The Hawthorns did the trick – a night where the Northern Irishman’s sweet left foot sparked incredible scenes of celebration in the Brummie Road End.
He looks back on that night and recalls his thoughts as the ball came to him on the edge of the box, the advice one former Albion man gave him before the game and what it was like playing in that title-winning side.
The Baggies midfielder also discusses a wide range of topics including how he’s spending lockdown, his recent conversations with Slaven Bilić and why he’s happy to keep out of the public eye as he follows his fitness regime. Enjoy!
Brunty great to see you. How’ve you been?
“Yeah not too bad thank you. It’s the same old, different day really. I’m just trying to keep busy around the house and help out with some stuff that I’m not used to doing. The kids have been good. We’ve been getting plenty of stuff sent through from the fitness coach and the sports science team to keep us ticking over. Hopefully we’ll be in a position to hit the ground running when we get back.”
Have the sports science team treated it a little bit like the off season, Brunty? Do you get a schedule every day or is it more of a weekly thing?
“It’s usually once a week on a Sunday night. That schedule maps out the rest of the week. It’s not really been like an off-season schedule, no, because we have to go back and play football straight away which is a lot different to when you go back in for pre-season. You’ve got six weeks to build up for the first league game. When this all gets going again, we’ll probably only have a couple of weeks to get prepared so it’s important to try and stay on top of things ourselves. We’ve had a little bit of a break and there’s a lot of lads who’ve played an awful lot of games this season, so in that sense it’s maybe not a bad thing for them to get a little bit of break. Saying that, we need to make sure we’re ready to keep going when we get back in.”
A few runs around the park?
“I have been in the park a couple of times. I did one long run right through the park the one day. I don’t mind running outside, it’s different from training when you’re running specifically for a game or a position or something in particular. When you’ve got to put your head down and start running, it becomes a whole different game there for us. I like to go for a run when I know I’m getting something at the end of it. One of the first days we were off, the cafes and little restaurants were still open so I ran through the park and met my wife for breakfast because the kids were still in school at that point. That wasn’t so bad. I’ve got some gym equipment in the house so I’ve been able to do most of it in the back garden and in the house. It’s not been too bad. I’ve sort of stayed out of the public eye."
Have you spoken to any of the lads or Slaven? How much contact do you have with each other?
“We all keep in contact via the group chat and messages like that. The manager has called everyone a couple of times. I’ve spoken to him a few times. I think it was just a general catch up to make sure everything was ok. There’s not really an awful lot you can do. Everyone is in the same boat. Not just football but worldwide. You’re with the people you live with and that’s pretty much it. We’re all missing football, but in the grand scheme of things it’s really important to keep ourselves to ourselves and have minimal contact with people. It’s been nice from my point of view as well because I’m a bit older now and with the stage I’m at with my career. I’ve spent a lot of time away from home playing in games and away on international duty too. I’ve been able to be here with the family and the kids 24/7 which is nice. I’m not sure whether they’ll agree with that all the time, but it’s nice to be able to spend a bit of time at home."
The one thing we wanted to speak to you in particular about today was the fact it’s 12 years to the day since that game against Southampton at The Hawthorns. What are your memories of the game?
“12 years. It has gone by pretty quickly to be fair. I wish I had taken a lot more in at the time but I was just a young lad and I was excited. That was the first time I knew I was going to play in the Premier League after that evening. To be totally honest I wasn’t happy not to be starting the game. We had done a lot of work in training that week looking at Southampton and looking at the way they played. We’d spoken about getting early crosses in behind their back four because we felt they left quite a lot of space, so I thought that I had a pretty good chance of playing because that’s one of my strengths. When Tony named the team and Mozza was playing wide left and I was on the bench, that stung a little bit at the time but once the game kicks off you want the lads to do well and you see how much it means to everyone inside the stadium. The one thing that stands out, I remember Jonathan Greening telling me to keep my head up before the game because he knew I was disappointed. He told me to go on and make a difference and that has always stuck with me.”
Was there a bit of anger behind that shot then when you struck it from the edge of the box?
“No, I don’t think so. It sat up nicely didn’t it and I got a decent first touch. If you look at the goal, I think it was Carl Hoefkens who just sort of hooked it forward and it wasn’t really one of our typical goals we had scored that season. I think at that time we had myself, Robbie Koren, Roman Bednar, Kevin Phillips, Luke Moore and I think Zoltan (Gera) was still on the pitch as well so we were really going for it. I was just sort of trying to follow the ball but I was a little bit behind it. I was trying to get myself into a position to affect it if one of the other lads didn’t get there first. When the ball dropped to me on the edge of the box I just concentrated on getting a decent touch and getting my head down and striking through it. It wasn’t an angry shot or anything like that. If I’d have hit it with too much anger I think it would’ve ended up in the Brummie!”
And the celebration as well. You ran towards the corner. It was an animated celebration, but in terms of goals you’ve scored for this football club, is that one of your best and one of your proudest?
“Yeah, I think so. People send me that picture all the time. Laurie and Fradge the photographers, if they ever send me photos, that’s one of the photos they always send me. It will be something that will live with me for the rest of my life, running away to that corner celebrating. You don’t really remember too much about it at the time. I think Paul Robinson jumped on me and obviously all the lads were going mad. Some of the lads in the squad had experienced it before, but I hadn’t, so it was all new to me. After missing out in the play-offs the year before everyone had been pretty disappointed about that so we all knew what it meant to the Club. I’d signed for Albion that summer hoping to realise that dream of playing in the Premier League. It all came into that one moment and when you’re sliding in and everyone is jumping on top of you, it’s a great feeling.”
After that goal, the fans were on the pitch, everyone’s in mass hysteria because Albion are going back to the Premier League - but there was still a slight mathematical chance that if there was a 13-goal swing then it would not have happened. Did Tony Mowbray tell you to go easy on the celebrations that night?
“No, he was pretty sensible and it would have been an unlikely swing so we were pretty confident that nothing was going to happen. During that week we went to the training ground and did what we needed to do, then went for a few beers with the rest of the lads in the local pub and ended up going into town for some food and a few more drinks after that, but the following day my wife was going into labour with our first boy. I knew that was the plan for the week so I had to take it easy and drop the shoulder early doors so I thought I was pretty sensible to be honest.”
And of course that famous celebration at QPR after sticking the free-kick top bins…
“Yeah. It’s one of those weeks and you don’t experience too many of them with the birth of my first child and just to score two goals at any point of your career is great for someone who is not a centre-forward, so for me to get two and secure promotion in the same week was something that you could not put into words. When I’m finished and sitting in my back garden for the next 10 years it will be times like those that I will look back on with fond memories.”
What was it like playing in that team? You’re good mates with Jono and Robbo so what was it like to be part of the squad that won the league that year?
“It was a fantastic experience for me and I was still relatively young at the time - I think about 22 or 23 and my dream as a kid was to play in the Premier League against the best players and that summer when I left Sheffield Wednesday, I remembered when we played against West Brom a few times and having a good feeling about them. I came down and met the manager and he told me how they wanted me to play and it sounded like something that I wanted to be a part of but I didn’t play as much football that season as I would have wanted to. When you look back at the squad we had and the players we had in it, it must have been a difficult decision for the manager to go and pick a team every week. But playing with the likes of Greening, Robbo, Kevin Phillips, people who are experienced professionals and I knew Jono a little from my time at Middlesbrough and he was always great with me. Paul Robinson was great too because I played the majority of my time on the left and he was behind me so from day one he was great. He helped me a lot and we just had a good relationship on that side of the pitch whenever I played there.”
Now here we are 12/13 years later with our promotion push halted due to the current pandemic, the lads must be itching to get back and finish off all the hard work they have been putting in throughout this season?
“That’s the main aim and obviously we have got to hit the ground running to make sure we are ready and I’m sure all the work the analysts and coaching staff have been doing on who we’ve still got to play will be important. There’s nine big games left so if we continue the points average we have done this season then we’ve got a good chance of ending up back in the Premier League. We’d like to do it sooner rather than later but obviously there’s a lot of restrictions in place at the minute. I’m sure once we can go back in we’ll be able to do it.”